Saturday 16 December 2017

Food watchdog to decide on 'Frankenfish'

Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington

AMERICAN food regulators are considering allowing a genetically engineered animal to be classified fit for human consumption.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is conducting two days of hearings after a request to market genetically modified salmon.

Ron Stotish, CEO of AquaBounty, the company that made the marketing request, said yesterday that his company's fish product is safe and environmentally sustainable.

However, there is a degree of concern about the outcome of the deliberations. Those opposed to the plan to sell modified food call the salmon "Frankenfish".

They argue it could cause allergies in humans and the eventual decline of the wild salmon population.

The FDA has already said the salmon, which grows twice as fast as the conventional fish, is as safe to eat as the traditional variety.

Whether the American public will have an appetite for it is another matter. Genetic engineering is already widely used for crops, but the government until now has not considered allowing the consumption of modified animals.

Approval would open the door for a variety of other genetically engineered animals, including an environmentally friendly pig that is being developed in Canada or cattle that are resistant to mad cow disease.

Genetically engineered -- or GE -- animals are not clones, which the FDA has already said are safe to eat. Clones are copies of an animal. With GE animals, their DNA has been altered to produce a desirable characteristic.

In the case of the salmon, AquaBounty has added a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon that allows the fish to produce their growth hormone all year long.

Critics have two main concerns: the safety of the food to humans and the salmon's effect on the environment.

Because the altered fish has never been eaten before, they say, it could include dangerous allergens, especially because seafood is highly allergenic.

They also worry that the fish will escape and intermingle with the wild salmon population, which is already endangered.

The company says it has several safeguards in place. All the fish would be bred female and sterile, though a small percentage may be able to breed. And they would be bred in confined pools where the potential for escape would be very low.

Irish Independent

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